No. 16 Arkansas' red-hot start to the season continued Saturday with a 20-10 win over No. 7 Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The Razorbacks have already won more games in 2021 (four) than they did all of last season (3-7). This is the program's first 4-0 start since 2003 when Houston Nutt was head coach.
Second-year head coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Art Briles wasted no time sending a message. Arkansas jumped out to a 17-0 lead with 13:55 remaining in the second quarter.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson finished the game with 212 passing yards and two touchdowns on just seven completions. He did leave the game for a period of time in the second half, but he was able to return late in the fourth quarter.
The scoring ground to a halt after that, but the Razorbacks defense had no problems shutting down Texas A&M.
The Aggies only had two drives in which they ran plays in Arkansas territory. That doesn't include Isaiah Spiller's 67-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cut the score to 17-10.
Notable Game Stats
- KJ Jefferson (ARK): 7-of-15, 212 yards, 2 TD; 8 carries, 50 yards
- Trelon Smith (ARK): 17 carries, 82 yards
- Treylon Burks (ARK): 6 receptions, 167 yards, TD
- Zach Calzada (A&M): 20-of-36, 151 yards, INT
- Isaiah Spiller (A&M): 12 carries, 95 yards, TD; 5 receptions, 26 yards
Defense, Big Plays Carry Razorbacks in Win
Arkansas looked like it was on its way to a blowout win early in the second quarter. The offense had two touchdown drives of a combined 162 yards that took a total of 93 seconds off the clock.
Treylon Burks had the first big play of the game with an 85-yard touchdown catch on a dime from KJ Jefferson on the Razorbacks' second possession.
After the defense forced a punt on Texas A&M's next possession, AJ Green got in on the scoring with a 48-yard touchdown that was aided by poor tackling from Aggies linebacker Aaron Hansford.
At that point in the game, Arkansas' offense had put up 17 points on just 13 plays.
Things did eventually settle down with the Aggies defense tightening up. The Razorbacks did have a chance to increase their lead late in the second quarter, but Trelon Smith's run on 4th-and-1 was stuffed for a turnover on downs.
That 11-play, 65-yard drive was one of only two times after they went up 17-0 their offense gained at least 20 yards on a single possession.
Jefferson appeared to injure his leg on a run in the third quarter, causing him to limp off the field.
Despite briefly trying to play through the injury, the sophomore was replaced by Malik Hornsby midway through the third quarter.
The transition at quarterback started smoothly, with Hornsby running for 16 yards on his first snap. It quickly fell apart after that when the same drive ended with a sack as he was trying to scramble out of pressure.
Even with limited offensive production, especially in the second half, Arkansas' defense stepped up in a big way. Isaiah Spiller did get the unit for a 67-yard score in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 17-10, but that was one of only two Aggies drive that gained more than 20 yards in the second half.
There will be games later this season when Arkansas has to play more consistent on offense if it wants to win.
For now, though, Pittman has his team moving in the right direction as they attempt to challenge Alabama atop the SEC West division.
Aggies Still Seeking Answers in Passing Game
There have been a lot of positives to take away from Texas A&M early in the season. The defense came into Saturday ranked first in the nation with 5.7 points allowed and seventh with 239.3 yards per game.
After the Razorbacks broke off two big plays against that defense early in the game, the Aggies found their bearings. They only allowed 118 yards over the next seven drives combined.
As has been the case for most of the season, Spiller gave the offense a big boost with 95 yards on the ground. His touchdown run was one of two plays for the Aggies that gained at least 20 yards.
The problem that head coach Jimbo Fisher needs to figure out is at quarterback. It's been an ongoing issue to start this season. The injury to Haynes King has obviously played a significant role in the team's overall depth at the position.
Zach Calzada, who threw for 151 yards in Saturday's loss, has averaged fewer than five yards per attempt twice in the past three games. The sophomore out of Georgia threw a crucial interception early in the fourth quarter when Texas A&M was trying to tie the score.
It's certainly difficult for any team to play at a high level when it must rely on its second-string quarterback.
Freshman Blake Bost is the only other quarterback currently listed on the Aggies' depth chart. Eli Stowers was one of the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school, but he has switched positions to tight end.
Until King recovers from a fractured leg, it appears as if Calzada is going to be the quarterback for the Aggies. He is going to have to take significant steps forward quickly to keep the team going now that SEC play has started.
Texas A&M will return home to host Mississippi State at Kyle Field on Oct. 2. Arkansas will play its first true road game of the season next Saturday against No. 2 Georgia at 12 p.m. ET.